IN the Bible, prophets wear robes, eat locusts, and shout from the rooftops: 'Prepare to meet thy doom.' In Hong Kong, prophets wear business suits, eat prawn sandwiches, and issue 'buy' recommendations. John the Baptist got his predictions right. How well do our guys score? This columnist put a small group of modern prophets to the test a year ago. Today is their Day of Judgment. Cast your mind back 12 months. In the last week of October 1997, the Hang Seng Index was on a roller-coaster run. It had plummeted on Tuesday, October 28, and then made the biggest one-day climb in its history the following day (up 1,765 points to 10,763). People were literally hopping with glee in front of their Reuters terminals. On television, Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen explained how the market adjustment was positive news for Hong Kong. 'It will ease worries about damage to the economy caused by the expansion of value of assets.' Credit Lyonnais said the drop in share prices was 'a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity'. UBS Securities said shares were 'a screaming buy'. Merrill Lynch told its investors to pile in, because the market would be 'substantially higher' in a year. That day, Your Humble Narrator telephoned several financial specialists and asked them what would happen in the next 12 months. Peter Everington of Regent Pacific put his head on the block with firm predictions, as did several others, including Barry Lea of Lloyds Bank Asia. In contrast to the general euphoria, their prophecies were downbeat - no, positively suicidal. This columnist's immediate reaction: 'I can't print this.' But a reporter is a conduit, not a censor. The list was typed into the shape of a column and sent to the newsdesk of this newspaper. That evening, Your Humble Narrator received a call from the news editor. 'We can't print this,' he said. 'The crash is already over.' Fortunately, the lack of anything else to put in that space came to that column's rescue. The list of predictions appeared in this newspaper on Thursday, October 30. It sat oddly on a page full of joyful news of record gains: for example, one item told how Lee Shau-kee, the tycoon behind Henderson Land property company, had seen his shares climb $7.6 billion in six hours. That morning, several irate readers phoned to say it should not have been printed. 'It's way too gloomy,' said one caller. 'This is Hong Kong. We are already bouncing back.' A year has passed since that list was printed. Time to take another look at it. Lots of people would lose their jobs, it said. The growth of Hong Kong's gross domestic product per capita would grind to a halt; the Hang Seng Index would not bounce back but stay low; bullish government forecasts would have to be slashed back; and pay rises would be much smaller. Other predictions featured: people in some industries would keep their jobs but suffer salary cuts; property in the SAR would lose 30 per cent of its value; the Hong Kong Government would become unpopular with the public; economic growth in the United States would overtake Hong Kong's; and the mainland's economic performance would look good compared to Hong Kong's. The prophecies, which seemed outrageously pessimistic in 1997, have proved remarkably accurate - although, if anything, they were not negative enough. So, Messrs Everington and Lea, take a bow. Their performance reminded me of several other successful seers encountered in Hong Kong, particularly during the many years when this writer had a daily column. Here is one memorable example. Through much of the first half of last year, with the handover in view, hotels and other businesses were gearing up for a huge influx of visitors. But six months earlier, on December 7, 1996, this columnist highlighted the views of Murray Bailey, publisher of Travel Business Analyst. The total number of visitors during the handover the following year would be less than a normal year when nothing was happening, he said. Hotels would be like ghost towns, particularly in July. Mr Bailey was exactly right. But the lesson we learn from all this is not just that there are some good forecasters around. It also brings into focus the general rose-tinted myopia of the Hong Kong public and press. This is a place which seems to have everything anyone could want: wealth, vibrancy, energy and good restaurants. But the things that are missing are invisible factors, such as clear-sightedness, honesty, a willingness to listen to critics, and a sensible, considered vision of the future. This is not just airy nonsense. Ask people who made the right decisions a year ago. Good prophets, you see, lead to good profits.